The Canberra Raiders’ struggle to find a consistent halves partnership has hopefully come to an end after the announcement that Jack Wighton will take the number six jersey this season.
The Raiders went through three different halves partnerships in the first six rounds last season, with coach Ricky Stuart chopping and changing between Sam Williams, Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer. The Raiders only won two of their first six matches, as Stuart dropped Austin to the Mounties to rediscover his form and Williams was in and out of the side due to injury.
With the departure of Austin to the UK Super League at the end of last season, the Raiders hope their new partnership of Sezer and Wighton will guide the club back to finals for the first time in three seasons.
Heading into the 2019 NRL season, Sezer and Williams were the only recognised halves in the Raiders’ squad with young halfback Ata Hingano’s shoulder injury leaving him on the sideline till April.
Seen as one of the leaders in the club, Stuart has put his faith in Wighton to help lead the side with Sezer, tasked with keeping the side calm in pressure situations where they have let results slide in the past.
Wighton is not totally unfamiliar with the position, having worn the number six jumper during the 2014 NRL season alongside Terry Campese. It was a short-lived venture with Wighton moved to centre nine matches later and then to fullback.
The 26-year-old has admitted he wasn’t ready for the switch to the halves five years ago but believes he has now matured as a footballer and is ready to help lead the side around the park.
With his direct running style and constant desire to attack the line, he could serve as the perfect foil to Sezer’s kicking game and game management. In 2018, he was the Raiders’ third most reliable creator behind Aidan Sezer and Josh Hodgson giving eight assists in his 13 games last season.
But the main reason why Stuart has chosen Wighton to fill the five-eighth position is his stellar defensive ability.
The side know they are capable of scoring plenty of points, finishing the 2018 season with the second most points scored, but if the side wants to return to finals in 2019, a sturdy defence is required. The Raiders lost 11 games by nine points or less, eight of which were by a converted try. The Green Machine suffered three straight defeats to start the season with a combined losing margin of only five points.
Stuart’s main focus this pre-season has been to shore up the Raiders’ leaky defence and Wighton’s physicality and ability to read the game is a huge plus for the Raiders.
With Wighton moving to the halves, speculation will go into overdrive as to who will be his replacement at fullback.